by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 2 - The Pre-eminence of Life (continued)
We resume by observing that everything is bound up with the question of the place of Christ as living, that is, with the place of the risen, the living Lord.
The Apostle Paul gives something of an extra element to the resurrection of Christ. It is very significant - to be technical for a moment - that when he speaks of the death and burial of Christ he uses the aorist tense; He was crucified, He died, He was buried. In using that tense he meant, of course, that the thing was done. It is a completed act, something which is accomplished. But when the Apostle speaks of the resurrection, that Christ was raised, whereas he has been using the aorist tense he has now suddenly changed his tense and used the perfect tense. That does not lie on the face of things for the ordinary reader, of course, but to come upon that is tremendously impressive, and almost startling. It means this, that whereas he says that Christ was crucified - there is no doubt about that: Christ died - that was done, that was completed: and Christ was buried - it is a finished thing: He was raised. Thus, by changing his tense, he gives this force to his words: Yes, but He was not only raised, He is now alive, He lives, He is living. That is the extra thing that he brings in with the change of tense. You may think it to be a small thing, but when you look at that significant change of tense in the light of the place given to the risen Lord in the New Testament, you can see that it carries with it a very great deal more than just a simple grammatical change at one point in the narrative. It signifies not only that Christ was raised, but that He is alive. It was upon that, you see, that Paul's whole life, as well as his teaching, hung, not upon the bare fact that Christ was raised. Lazarus was raised; ah, but Christ lives! There is something more about Christ's being raised. He lives to die no more. He is alive now.
The Place of the Risen Lord as Living
That gives us the key to our further stage of consideration, the place of the risen Lord, of Christ as living. I think I might point out one other little grammatical point in connection with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Paul does not use what we know as the active voice, he uses the passive voice; that is, he does not say: Christ rose! That would be the active voice. He says, He was raised! That is the passive voice. He was raised by the glory of the Father! So far as Christ was concerned, it was God who intervened in raising Him from the dead. Christ was raised by the act of God: which means that God was watching over that whole situation, and at a given point He broke in. God was involved in the resurrection of Christ. God committed Himself to the whole matter of raising Christ. That gives this further added emphasis, that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is one which carries with it all the greatest factors; not just that He was raised, but that He lives; not simply He rose, but God raised Him.
That leads us on, then, to further things, and to our seeing that for the Apostles Christianity and the Church were not a system of doctrine, nor a system of orders of practice, but for them Christianity and the Church had relation to the living Christ. Christianity and the Church existed on the ground of Christ being alive, after having been crucified and buried. There is much more bound up with that than maybe would appear.
Christianity was the expression of Christ's being alive. The fact that Christ was alive was being expressed and the Church simply became the corporate vessel of that expression. Christianity and the Church had no being, no existence, only in that Christ was alive. Therefore neither Christianity nor the Church could be anything in itself, only in Christ as living.
That is what we mean when we say that the pre-eminent, predominant issue is life. It is not an abstraction, it is a Person; it is Christ living. Thus the basic and all-important reality with the Apostles and the believers of those days was the risen Lord, and living union with Him. That which was basic to everything was Christ as alive, and their being alive together in union with Him. We have to see what that union was, but we leave that for the moment.
Out of this every other thing arose. All doctrine came out of the fact of Christ being alive, and believers being in union with Him. And all order of assembly came spontaneously out of that two-fold fact; Christ alive, and believers livingly joined to Him. It came out of that. There is no other way in which to get either doctrine or order in a living way. That which spread its power and its significance over everything for them in those days was the resurrection of Christ. You find it touching everything on every hand.
You need to get to the New Testament with this purpose in mind, this thing before you, to be impressed with the significance of the resurrection of Christ in this startling way. You read the first few chapters of the Acts, and you find that the preaching there was little else than the proclamation of the resurrection of Christ. If you have not done so, take the first chapters of the book of the Acts and underline every reference to the resurrection of Christ, and you will be amazed. When you have done that, follow "resurrection" right through, and see how many sides of the whole revelation it touches in a direct way, and you will see that the resurrection affects everything, spreads itself over everything.
Resurrection Governs Everything
Supposing for a moment we broadly survey the place that resurrection holds, as we recognize that nothing else is of any value or meaning apart from it. In saying that, we make a tremendous statement, and yet it is true that nothing else in the New Testament is of value and meaning apart from the resurrection of Christ. Take the Gospels. What have we in the Gospels? To begin with we have the teaching of Christ. That teaching is very largely in parabolic form. You notice that more often than not, in a preponderance of instances, when the Lord Jesus presented truth in the form of a parable, He linked it with the phrase, "the kingdom of heaven," or "the kingdom of God." (I am not going to discuss the difference between those phrases at the moment, but merely note the fact.) "The kingdom of heaven is like unto..." and then a parable, teaching wrapped up in a parable. Most of His teaching was given in that form. Now here is the interesting thing, that after His resurrection we come upon these words: "to whom he also showed himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing unto them by the space of forty days, and speaking the things concerning the kingdom of God." After His passion, alive, speaking the things concerning the kingdom of God! We do not know all that He said after His resurrection. I think we may know but very little of all that He said during the forty days. We know the character of one unfolding that He gave from his converse with the two on the way to Emmaus. He opened to them in all the Scriptures, from Moses and all the prophets, the things concerning Himself. And shortly after, when gathered with them, and the rest of the disciples, at Jerusalem, He opened their understanding. What does it mean? The teaching concerning the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, was in parabolic form. Why? Because there was not yet the capacity for understanding truth in its naked form. The Lord Himself said that was why He spoke in parables. There was not the capacity for understanding, and so He gave illustrations. The illustration, of course, would fasten itself upon their minds, just as stories fasten themselves upon the minds of children, and later on, when they grow up, they remember the story, but then they come to the meaning.
Many of us had stories told to us when we were children. We remember the story most vividly, but now we have come to the place where we see what was the meaning of that story; and when we think with our mature capacity, we see that it was not just a story, but that there was a meaning. We have had to develop capacity. He told them, as children, truth in the form of parables, because they had not the capacity for spiritual understanding. The things concerning the kingdom were wrapped up; they did not understand them. Now, after His resurrection, He is the centre of the kingdom, and all the things of the kingdom around Him become clear to them on resurrection ground, when He opens their understanding. I think it is not pressing things too far to say that during those forty days, when He was speaking to them of the things concerning the kingdom of God, He was opening to their understanding new things which had been said earlier in a parabolic form with a veil over them. That means that in the Gospels the teaching of the Lord Jesus was all prospective to the resurrection. It demanded the resurrection for its understanding. It was pointing toward the time when in resurrection life there would be capacity for understanding it. It is quite clear that they understood after the resurrection.
If you look further, not only at the teaching, but at the works of the Lord Jesus recorded in the Gospels, you find again that He linked His works with the kingdom. "If I by the finger of God cast out demons, then is the kingdom come nigh unto you!" He linked His works, His miracles, with the kingdom. They did not understand. Was it the opening of the eyes of the blind? It was linked with the kingdom. Was it raising the dead? It was linked with the kingdom. Casting out demons? It was linked with the kingdom. Healing the sick? It was linked with the kingdom. But it was all looking forward. It all had a meaning, a significance. Whatever the miracle was, from the turning of water into wine to the raising of Lazarus, all the acts, the miracles, had a deeper meaning; they were acted parables and not spoken parables. But they were looking on; and they were pointing toward the time of resurrection, when the veil of flesh, of natural limitation, would be removed, and there would be spiritual capacity for understanding.
The Meaning of the Veil Being Rent
That is what I understand to be the meaning of the rent veil. The flesh which was standing between, and causing limitation, has been broken through, and another realm has been reached, where everything is spiritual and everything is of God, and everything without natural limitation. With the veil of earthly limitation, of incapacity, torn asunder, there is ability to understand spiritual things, and there is no doubt whatever that, as they came to understand the parabolic teaching, they came to understand the parabolic act. They saw that these miracles were acted teaching with a hidden meaning, and that they had a spiritual interpretation; and into this they themselves were now entering. This was to characterise the greater works, in conjunction with Christ's going to the Father. Opening the eyes of the blind? Well, Paul saw the living, risen Lord, and at the same time the Lord said: "unto whom I send thee to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light..." (Acts 26:18). That is entering into the spiritual meaning of John 9 where we have the man born blind receiving his sight. Paul came into the spiritual value of that, the greater works, which were not in the merely temporal, physical, but now in the spiritual, the eternal. That is a thing concerning the kingdom, to open the eyes of the blind. He is bringing the teaching, the acts, on to resurrection ground, into the spiritual meaning which has been waiting for this new stage before they could grasp it.
Take the epochs in Christ's life as they are seen in the Gospels; His baptism, His transfiguration. These personal experiences and epochs in His own life, again, had a spiritual meaning. They hid something of tremendous spiritual significance. After His resurrection, on that ground, the Apostles entered into the meaning of these things. They did not understand at the time. How could they understand His baptism, His transfiguration? It is perfectly clear that they had not understood. On the Mount of Transfiguration itself Peter missed the point altogether, and failed to see the tremendous significance of what was transpiring; but he got the light afterward, and when he wrote his letter many years later he could say: "...this voice we ourselves heard... when we were with him in the holy mount" (2 Peter 1:18). He came to understand the meaning of it.
I am not touching upon the meaning of these things. I am pointing to a fact, that the Gospels contain in teaching, in works, in experiences, in epochs, a great mass of data which His disciples did not understand until they reached resurrection ground, and then it says that He spoke to them of the things concerning the kingdom of God; and from that time they entered into the spiritual meaning of what they had heard and seen and been associated with, but had never understood. It waited for resurrection. On resurrection ground, in fellowship with a risen Lord, they were beginning to enter into an understanding. Presently another change will take place, when what was now dawning upon them should bring them out into the full light. As He speaks it is dawning upon them. I can imagine that during those forty days they often looked very much amazed, and said, Well, that is very wonderful; we did not know that it meant that; we did not see that in it. It was just like the dawn. It was like the rays of light striking across the heavens. And when the Holy Spirit came and took up residence within them, then it was full daylight; and from that time they went out, limited no longer by a partial, imperfect grasp of things, by the old ignorance and the old darkness. Now in the full daylight they have a full grasp of what took place in the days of His flesh, the content of the Gospels.
Divine Life is Divine Light
Now, we have not covered that ground in order to leave the subject there, but rather because we see the tremendous value and significance of this fact in its application to ourselves. What is it that we have in view? What is it that we are after? Well, we are saying that life is the pre-eminent thing, and that that life is union with the risen Lord. To what does that work out? What is the value, or what are the values of that? It is with all the values of that we are to be occupied for some time to come, but I want to indicate, from the point just reached, the fact that there is a resurrection-apprehension of Divine things, which is an entirely different apprehension from all others. A resurrection-apprehension of Divine things is a living one; not a mental one merely, not an academic one, not as of a system of truth, but a living apprehension. There is all the difference between having a thing explained to us, and having it revealed to us. I may say a lot of things to you. Some of them may be new, and you may say, Well, I never saw it like that, I never saw that! or, I never saw that it meant that! That is new! I am glad to know that! So far so good; but there is something more that you can have. That will not get you all the way. It may be a help; it may be something to take hold of, but it will not carry you right through. You cannot in meetings and in classes get from speakers the whole essential; you can only get the basis of it. There is something more that you may have, and that is to have the Lord in a living way, making all that truth a revelation to your heart with a tremendous result in your life. It is so necessary for us to get right down to foundations. You will recognize that what we are doing is to sift things out until we get to rock bottom.
I want you to recognize that it is not enough to have the truth grasped in your mind as truth. It may be the truth, the truth on any one phase, or on the whole. It may be the truth of the Cross. It may be the truth of the Church, the Body of Christ. It may be any other phase of the truth, and it may be perfectly true; and because you believe it, because it has gripped your mind, you may give it out, you may preach it, you may talk about it, and still there may be something lacking. Do you believe that? Do you understand that truth as truth is not all that we need? It is necessary for the Holy Spirit to reveal it to our hearts. I cannot lay sufficient emphasis upon that, because for myself upon this a revolution has taken place in my own life. This is what I mean when I say that it is essential that we have a spiritual kinship with the Apostles, in order to have the understanding and value of their doctrine. A kinship with them in their experience is essential. I do not mean that it must take the same form, that it must of necessity be identical, but the fact, or the meaning of the experience, must be identical.
We have to come into the place where from a mental grasp of the truth, which verily is the truth, we are carried through to a spiritual, living apprehension of it. I have often said that for myself I saw the Cross, the teaching of the New Testament on the Cross, what the Cross represented, long before the change of which we speak. I saw the teaching of the New Testament on the truth and - to my own mind - could outline in the most exact analysis on a blackboard what the New Testament, or the whole Bible, taught about the Cross and the Church. I could outline Ephesians and give a complete analysis, and say the same things which I say today. And yet there came into my own life a time and an experience which made what followed like another world from that which preceded, so far as those very same things were concerned. I had the truth, and I taught the truth; and then that "something" happened, and that same truth came to me as though I had never known it before. I hardly recognized the same things, and yet there they were. And many others said to me, What has happened? You are not saying different things from what you have said, but there is a difference, and it is a very big difference! What is it?
That difference is bound up with a relationship with the living Christ. It is bound up with - let me put it the other way round, and say the final thing - Christ becoming Himself the life of the mind, the life, the understanding. By nature the understanding is darkened. Now Christ risen becomes a new life for the understanding, and the understanding is redeemed from darkness. No one can explain that, and no one can present that. It is something that you can know, and it is an abiding miracle. I have often said that the greatest treasure that the Lord has given me with Himself, but as a distinct thing, though not apart from Himself, is an opened heaven. And what I mean by that is that whereas at one time all my work was a matter of hard grind at books, at studies; of a tremendous amount of mental expenditure in preparing sermons and addresses along that level; since that thing happened the Lord has been giving the revelation, opening up, opening up, opening up. It is a living thing. It does not mean that I can dispense with reading the Word. It does not mean that the Lord lets me off from every kind of work of that sort, but it is a different thing altogether. It is not a direct revelation of something extra to the Word. Please do not misunderstand me. It is the Holy Spirit opening up what is there, which no natural mind can grasp. That is resurrection life for the mind, and it makes truth living and not academic or merely technical. It is something which is of life.
I believe that that is what happened in the forty days for the Apostles. It was a forty days of transition from parables of the kingdom to the spiritual revelation, and it was bound up with Christ risen and their fellowship with Him. It was transition, because the full state did not come about until they entered into spiritual union with Him, which did not take place until Pentecost; but it marks a change; it is a moving from one ground to another. He spoke to them concerning the kingdom of God. That for me says that they came to understand what He had been saying to them, and doing before them, during the rather more than three years of His sojourn with them when they did not understand anything. It is the principle of resurrection life in union with Christ which makes the truth a living thing.
We said, then, that out of resurrection union with Christ everything else of doctrine and order arose, and that the resurrection spread itself and its significance over everything for them. We touched the Gospels with reference to teaching and the works in the life of the Lord Jesus.
The same holds good as to His Cross. We might call that also an epoch, but having so many sides and phases and meanings the Cross was not understood, save on resurrection ground. See them on the way to Emmaus! How clear it is that they had not understood. "Dost thou alone sojourn in Jerusalem and not know the things which are come to pass there in these days? And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we hoped that it was he which should redeem Israel..." (Luke 24:18-21). How little had they grasped of the Old Testament Scriptures! How little had they grasped His own repeated explanation: "The Son of man shall be delivered up into the hands of men: and they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised up" (Matt. 17:22-23). Again and again He had said things like that. No, they had not grasped any of it; and when He said, "Behoved it not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into his glory?" the "behoved it not" surely carried them back to the Scriptures, indicating how needful it was for the Scriptures to have been fulfilled. No, they had not seen it. They had not grasped it. But now, on resurrection ground, they saw the meaning of the Cross.
Resurrection a Change, Not Only an Event
Mark this point. Resurrection ground is not merely a further historic demonstration meaning that, because now they see Him alive, they have the indisputable confirmation of the Scriptures! That is not the supreme significance of the fact. That is a part of it, but it is not all. The thing which became the spiritual essential for them was not only that they had seen Him alive as a historic fact, but that the Holy Ghost came and inwardly illuminated all that related to that fact. They received more than the fact; they had all related facts.
I wonder if you have grasped that. Supposing we were in the place of those men after the death, the crucifixion of Christ, and that then, while yet filled with all our doubts, and our fears, and our despair, suddenly He were to be here in the midst; and we saw Him and He said, Handle Me and see! and got rid of all ground of questioning and doubt, put it all away, and convinced us of the historic fact of His resurrection, the literal fact that He was alive. Well, that is one thing. That is a great thing. But then, supposing in some new way, with a new capacity, by a new power, a new enablement, a new ability, we were able to see, in relation to that fact, everything in the Scriptures. Then we see it. Then we understand it; though we could not have seen it, but for a gift given to us for seeing. We have seen not alone the fact, but the whole range of that fact as it touched this, and that, and that. The Scriptures suddenly became alive to us in the light of that fact, as we were given a spiritual ability to see, to understand. That is something more than the fact. That is resurrection life. That is the range of the resurrection of Christ for spiritual value. It is only one aspect of it, but it is a tremendous thing.
To gather that all up, it means that He Who is the fact of resurrection, and with resurrection life, comes and takes up His residence within, and then reveals, by His residence within, all that is related to Him and to His resurrection, making it of practical value, a working power in every part of our being. What a tremendous thing the resurrection of Christ is. Every part of our being is affected. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is a matter of life, a mighty life affecting every part of our being and reaching right out to the farthest bounds of our horizon.
It was out of that that Christianity grew. Christianity was that! Christianity at the beginning, was the expression of Christ's being alive, and that expression as within believers. If you had said to those early believers, How do you know that He is alive? All they would have been able to say, as many today are only able to say, is: Well, He is a living reality within. He, in the meaning and value of resurrection, affects my whole being, has changed the basis of my being! It touches me at every point; mind, heart and will; spirit, soul and body. Christ is a reality in all. An energy, a life; not an abstract energy and life, but a Person.
What is the Church? The Church is simply, the aggregate of that, simply the whole company of such people, in whom One, even the risen Christ in the power of His risen life, dwells and expresses Himself. That is the Church, and by that indwelling, and by that energy, He expresses Himself in a certain way, in a heavenly order, and brings about right relationships, puts people in their right place, gives to them their due measure in every part. But it is the expression of something from within. Christ risen means that, and much more. We must close there for the time being. But when all we have said has been heard it amounts to this, that it is a matter of that basic union with Christ in His risen life, and then His having a full opportunity for expressing Himself.
This is so very different from an organized Christianity. That is what we are trying to get at. It is the living expression of Christ. What He needs, what we need, what the world needs is a living expression of Christ as now alive in the perfect tense - not only was He raised, but He lives. For Paul that perfect tense means, Yes, He was raised, and He lives; but even now He does not only live somewhere afar off, He is here: "for me to live is Christ!" That is the perfect tense: "Christ liveth in me!" He is present, personal, inward, related, as alive. That is all we want, and that means a tremendous thing here on this earth.
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